#childsafety | How information-sharing can enhance safeguarding

The Child Safeguarding Review Panel has identified timely and appropriate information-sharing as a key area of safeguarding that often needs to be improved. Elizabeth Rose offers best practice advice for schools

This is an edited version of an article that originally appeared on Headteacher Update

The Child Safeguarding Review Panel (CSRP) has released its annual report for 2020, looking at learning from a range of reviews of cases where children have been seriously harmed or have died. The panel has identified ‘six key themes to address to make a difference’, with the intention that these themes will reduce the risk of serious harm and instances where children die as a result of abuse or neglect. One of these is, ‘sharing information in a timely and appropriate way’.

Poor information-sharing is often highlighted in reviews of child protection practice and, despite years of discussion and training around this, the issue persists. Safeguarding teams in schools are one very important cog in a wider support network around families and, although we may not be able to solve this problem across the board, we can certainly review our own practices to ensure that we are sharing what we need to in order to keep children safe.

Safeguarding information and GDPR

I regularly have conversations with schools where individuals are worried about making a mistake and sharing something they should not. Although most people are now more comfortable and confident with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), a nervousness persists in some cases. Professionals want to do the right thing by keeping data safe and secure, but it makes it clear in Keeping Children Safe in Education (DfE, 2021) that ‘the Data Protection Act 2018 and GDPR do not prevent the sharing of information for the purposes of keeping children safe…Fears about sharing information must not be allowed to stand in the way of the need to safeguard and promote the welfare and protect the safety of children’.

Lord Laming’s report from the Victoria Climbié inquiry (2003) highlighted this as a problem and it was once again referenced in the CSPR 2020 annual report. The report found that information-sharing constraints were present in both local and national reviews and that there is still a concern that worries around data protection regulations may limit when information is shared.

Best practice advice

  • Read and disseminate key messages from the document Information-sharing advice for safeguarding practitioners. It has clear, to-the-point advice on when you can and should share information and it is a useful document to refer to when you are not sure of whether you can (or should) share.
  • Train staff so that they feel confident to share concerns with the safeguarding team – not only about children themselves, but about siblings, domestic abuse concerns, parental substance misuse and parental mental health concerns.
  • Make use of the Information Commissioner’s Office website and helpline. There is a wealth of support online around the GDPR and Data Protection Act (2018) and lots of frequently asked questions. It is particularly useful if you receive a subject access request and need guidance on how to respond. If you are still unsure of what you can share, you can contact them by telephone and they will help you with your query.
  • Liaise with the data protection officers at your local authority, if you are able to.
  • Always remember that data protection laws should never prevent action being taken to keep a child safe.

Firstly, devise a system where you obtain a receipt for file transfers. This may be automatic if your system is online, or you may need to create a paper form. Keep the receipts as part of your data-sharing records. Follow-up any instances where you are not provided with a receipt, especially at the end of the year when lots of children transfer and it might be more likely that something will be missed.

Secondly, consider cases where children are receiving higher levels of support due to safeguarding issues and ensure you plan transitions for victims and perpetrators of peer-on-peer abuse carefully.

Make sure you share relevant information with a child’s new school to help to keep them (and other children) safe. Keeping Children Safe in Education makes it clear that ‘the designated safeguarding lead should also consider if it would be appropriate to share any information with the new school or college in advance of a child leaving’. Don’t let concerns about information-sharing prevent you from arranging appropriate safeguarding support when a child leaves your school.

Working with other agencies

Effective multi-agency information-sharing and recording is crucial when children are experiencing, or are at risk of experiencing, harm. It is important to prepare thoroughly for any meetings you attend and that you use the tools that will be most effective in supporting you to work with others.

Best practice advice

  • If you have not already done so, contact your local authority to see if they have a template for multi-agency meetings; it helps if everyone is using the same framework and terminology when sharing information and making decisions about a child’s safety.
  • If you do not receive minutes of multi-agency meetings, chase them up. The same applies to the outcomes of any referrals you make to social care. It is important to check that your information has been received and acted upon and it is your responsibility to do so – see paragraph 51 of Keeping Children Safe in Education.
  • Make sure that the language you use in referrals or meetings is specific. Phrases like, ‘the situation has deteriorated’ or ‘improvements seen’ are vague and may be misinterpreted by another professional. Be clear in what you want (and need) to share and add evidence or examples as necessary.

The tips and strategies needed for effective information-sharing are relatively straightforward, with a focus on accuracy, timeliness and follow-up where necessary. The challenge is consistency – ensuring we always apply these rules to every safeguarding record or referral to make sure nothing is missed. 

Hopefully, with renewed scrutiny being placed on information-sharing, we will be able to overcome barriers and make sure we do everything we can to protect children.

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